When Jason Collins contemplated whether to come out as the first openly gay active member of a major U.S. professional sports league, the first family member he confided in was his aunt, a San Francisco Superior Court judge.
Judge Teri Jackson talked this afternoon about her nephew Collins, a Stanford University graduate and 12-year veteran in the NBA who wrote a first-person account released earlier today by Sports Illustrated about his decision to come out.
In the article, the 34-year-old Collins said Jackson was the first family member he told about his sexual orientation and "from that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin."
Jackson said she does not remember exactly when her nephew confided in her, but said it was at least a couple of years ago.
"I had always suspected ... and he just acknowledged it," she said. "It was not an earth-shaking event."
However, the release of the article today prompted a phone call from President Barack Obama to Collins expressing his support, Jackson said.
First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, many NBA colleagues and others have also expressed support for Collins via social media. Jackson said her nephew will be able to handle any negative reaction he might get from fans or colleagues as a result of his announcement.
"Jason's a strong man, he can handle it," she said. Jackson said her family is used to being first.
She and her sister -- Collins' mother -- were the first black children to integrate their elementary school, and Jackson was the first black woman to serve as a judge in San Francisco Superior Court.
The judge said she hopes her nephew will serve as a role model to other closeted gay athletes and to help get rid of discrimination in sports.
"This is history," she said. "I'm very proud of him." Collins graduated from Stanford in 2001 and has played for six NBA teams over the course of his career, including the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards this past season.